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Fish Prep 101

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Fish Prep 101

While there is no magic bullet as the cure to all our ailments, eating more fish can help improve our diets and overall health in big ways.

Eating more fish adds greater variety in your diet and provides many necessary nutrients including protein, iron and minerals such as selenium, zinc and iodine. Fish is also one of the richest food sources of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. In addition, fish is readily available at most supermarkets and fairly inexpensive. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating at least eight ounces of seafood per week based on a 2,000 calorie diet. 

People are often leery of cooking fish at home due to a misconception of difficulty and proper technique and prefer to eat it while dining out. Buying, storing and cooking fish is simple and just requires a little education beforehand. Follow these tips for selecting and preparing fish in the comfort of your own home.

Purchasing Fish
Be on the lookout for these things when buying fish to ensure you purchase the best selection possible.

Fresh fish

  • Look moist, shiny and not dry or dull
  • Bounce back when you press lightly on the skin
  • Have its scales intact—if you are purchasing a whole fish, open the gills and look for a rosy color


  • Smell “fishy”
  • Indent when you press lightly on the skin
  • Have any signs of bruising or blemishes
  • Have shedding scales (this is a sign the fish has been stored too long)

Frozen fish

  • Be packaged properly and sealed tightly
  • Be frozen solid
  • Have good, light coloring with no signs of browning


  • Show signs of freezer burn
  • Show signs of not being frozen solid
  • Be opaque in color—this could be a sign of freezer burn

Farm-raised vs. wild-caught
The nutritional differences between farm-raised and wild-caught fish are not as substantial as you might imagine. One of the main nutritional benefits of incorporating fish into your diet is the omega-3 fatty acids. Farm-raised fish actually provide more omega-3 per ounce in comparison to wild-caught fish. Reel in the health benefits by incorporating both types of fish into your diet.

Benefits of farm-raised fish:

  • Consistent in quality
  • Available fresh year-round
  • Affordable
  • Good source of omega-3s

Benefits of wild-caught fish:

  • Firm texture
  • Complex flavor
  • Color and texture vary with type of fish, what the fish eats and the season it is caught
  • Good source of omega-3s

Storing tips
Unless you live near the coast or are fortunate enough to have a superior local fish market, most fish you buy will be sold frozen. Keep your fish frozen until you’re ready to cook it. Transfer fish from the freezer to the refrigerator to thaw or run under cold water. Cook fresh fish as soon as possible after thawing as it will only be suitable and safe to consume for one to two days.

Marinating tips
To boost the flavor and help retain moisture, you may want to marinate your fish of choice. Be sure to only marinate it for 30 minutes or less, especially if the marinade has acidic ingredients as the acid will break down the delicate protein and make it mushy.

Experiment with different spices and ingredients until you find one you like or buy a pre-made marinade at the grocery store. Most marinades contain oil, acid (vinegar, fruit juice or wine), herbs and spices. Asian-inspired marinades include light soy sauce, sesame oil and scallions. Southwest marinades may include lime juice, cilantro and oil. Many people prefer only salt and pepper with a lemon wedge served on the side.

Cooking tips
Cooking fish is fast and simple. There are several common methods to cook fish, but one rule seems to always hold true—do not disturb the fish. This means when you place the fish in a pan over the stove or on the grill, let it cook undisturbed for two to four minutes.  Resist the temptation to move the fish as the goal is to develop a nice crust and prevent it from sticking to the pan or tearing. You will know the fish is fully cooked when the color turns from translucent to opaque, or has reached an internal temperature of 140-145° F.

Grilling is ideal for sturdier fish such as grouper, salmon, tuna, snapper, mahi-mahi and shrimp. Fish that is more flakey can be grilled using a grill basket. Ensure the grill grids are clean so the fish can be turned easily without sticking. Fire up the grill and follow these simple steps for perfectly grilled fish:

  1. Remove the fish from the refrigerator and allow to rest for approximately 20-30 minutes to ensure even cooking.
  2. Place the fish on the pre-heated medium to high heat grill, or when the coals are glowing and there is a thin layer of ash. If you can only hold your hand above the coals for 2-3 seconds then the grill is ready to begin cooking.
  3. As a general rule, grill fish for approximately 10 minutes per inch of thickness.

Sautéing is the simplest way to prepare fish. Easy tips for cooking quick and delicious fish include:

  1. Remove fish from the refrigerator and allow to rest for approximately 20-30 minutes before cooking to ensure even cooking. Warm a non-stick skillet over medium-heat with a little oil or butter just covering the bottom of the pan.
  2. Cook the fish for 2-3 minutes on one side and gently turn over to continue cooking on the other side until done. Add a little bit of white wine and 1-2 teaspoons of butter to finish the dish.

It’s always wise to prepare all of your side dishes first and save cooking the fish for last to serve your fish dishes as fresh as possible. Cooking fish is fast, easy and healthy. Increase vitamins and minerals while you decrease time in the kitchen by incorporating it into your meal plan at least twice per week.

For more information or to schedule a nutrition consultation, visit or call 972.560.2655.

Article provided by Kathy Duran-Thal, RDN, LD, and Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services.